The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Masked Men Mug Moving Moto

Coming back from a holiday party replete with home-made egg nog, Christmas cookies and latkas, a friend and I jumped on the back of a moto. It was shortly after midnight and even the dark sides roads were lit up by the full moon at its perigee.

We were almost home when four masked men on two motos drove up beside us. One them grabbed my friend’s purse and pulled us off the moving moto onto the asphalt. Laid out on the ground, three of the men approached—one staying back on lookout. I managed to put my body between my friend and the muggers. Standing over me, one man punched me in the nose, and another hit me in the jaw. They didn’t want me getting in the way of my friend’s purse.

I really wanted to fight back. With that adrenaline rush, I just got angry. They didn’t punch very hard, and they were small, skinny men. I could take them, I thought to myself.

Thankfully before I could make a stupid decision, my friend freed her purse from underneath her body and reached over me to hand it to the men. At which point, they picked up my cell phone which had fallen out of my pocket and leapt back on their scooters, disappearing into the not-so-dark night.

After they’d left, I remembered advice an old Cambodia hand gave me at a bar: There are no fist fights in Cambodia. A well-organized group of thieves like that would surely had knives.

We were a bit shaken but uninjured. My friend had a scrape from the fall, and I escaped without even a bruise to show off to people at the office.

Despite the masks the men wore, you could see their eyes and the wrinkles around them. These were not some young punks , but middle-aged men, and judging by their tactics, this is something they’d done before. For all their efforts, they netted thirty dollars, two borrowed paperbacks, and a cell phone.

The entire mugging took place right next to Toul Sleng, the Khmer Rouge torture facility, a grim reminder of what these men went through in the late 70s.

The term “post-conflict society” get bandied about here a lot, and for good reason. People focus on the KR era that ended in 79, but really fighting didn’t end till the 90s. Not surprisingly, the result of more than four decades of internal strife was a disintegration of public trust and a prevalence of a survivalist attitude where one looks out for one’s self first and foremost. Though this type of robbery could happen anywhere, roving moto bandits are a particularly serious problem in Phnom Penh. Last year, a French tourist was killed when she was pulled off her bike and then hit by an oncoming van.

My friend works for the UN, and they have a weekly security report that lists all the crimes that happened to UN workers. We made the list as an example of what you should in that situation. When I talked to the UN security officer who helped me file a police report, he basically said there was nothing we could’ve done.

These muggings just kind of happen in Cambodia, he explained.

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2 Responses

  1. Alex Lopez says:

    I’m glad you and your friend got out of that situation safely, with what sounds like only minimal property loss and some shaken nerves.

    I’m thankful that I live in a city as safe as Beijing. I forget some times that as foreigners we do stick out, these things do happen in some places. After having lived here for so long, even Portland seems like a rough and dangerous town.

  2. Christina says:

    Aww Shay, that’s terrible. :( It’s good that you’re both okay, but I wish it never had to happen at all…

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